The FCC plans to vote later this month on rules for the $9 billion 5G Fund for Rural America. The plan is to use a two-phase reverse auction to award funding to cover some of the costs of deploying mobile 5G to areas that are less likely to get 5G service without government support.
In a reverse auction, funding for an area goes to the company that commits to deploying service at the lowest level of support.
One of the big issues to be resolved is which option the commission will choose for determining areas eligible for the auction, and in a blog post, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the draft of the rules currently circulating within the FCC calls for eligible areas to be determined based on data gathered through the commission’s Digital Opportunity Data Collection.
The commission previously floated the alternate idea of determining areas eligible for the Phase 1 auction based “current data sources that identify areas as particularly rural and thus in the greatest need of universal service support.” The commission also released a preliminary list of areas that would be eligible for the auction using this approach, which according to FCC estimates, would have enabled the Phase 1 auction to start next year.
The Digital Opportunity Data Collection will collect data from fixed and mobile service providers detailing where providers offer service at various speeds and is expected to be a more accurate way of determining areas that lack service. But the commission previously estimated that the auction would not be able to start until 2023 if this method was used for determining eligible areas.
Although Pai’s blog post today doesn’t reference this timeline, it does say that determining eligible areas based on the Digital Opportunity Data Collection “won’t be the fastest possible path to the Phase 1 auction, but it will allow us to identify with greater precision those areas of the country where support is most needed and will be spent most efficiently.”
Phase 2 of the 5G Fund for Rural America auction is expected to award funding for areas such as farms and ranches that are more difficult to serve. That auction is slated to include $1 billion for precision agriculture.
TV White Spaces
Also on the agenda for the October monthly commission meeting is a report and order that would change certain rules for white spaces devices operating in the 600 MHz band. Unlicensed users, including fixed wireless providers, use this spectrum where it is not in use by television broadcasters.
Pai didn’t provide much detail on this item, other than to say that the rule changes aim to expand the ability of white spaces devices to “provide broadband coverage in rural and unserved areas while still protecting television broadcasters in the band.” Pai noted that the order also would modify rules to facilitate the development of narrowband Internet of Things devices in the TV white spaces band.
A third item on the October FCC meeting agenda of interest to Telecompetitor readers is a report and order that, according to Pai, would “end unbundling and resale requirements where they stifle the transition to IP networks and broadband deployment” while preserving unbundling requirements “where they are still necessary to realize the 1996 [Telecom] Act’s goal of robust intermodal competition benefiting all Americans.”